The extraordinary baritone voice of Thomas Hampson is featured in new additions to the Song of America Web site: < >, which is dedicated to the recently concluded 11-city tour by Hampson that brought performances of American songs to a wider audience. The Hampson concerts featured songs that are in the collections of the Library of Congress.

As a companion to the concert tour, the Web site commemorates the history of the American art song by highlighting the Library's unparalleled collections of holograph manuscripts, first editions of published sheet music, copyright deposits and recordings.  The site is enriched by audio recordings of Thomas Hampson's performances, and video footage and a master class from the concert tour are also available.

Although the song tradition in the United States is fairly young compared to that of Western Europe, song composition in America has been well established for more than two centuries.  The Web site contains one of the first extant art songs in the United States, "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free," [] by Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791), a friend of George Washington and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

As the country grew, American composers searched for a voice of their own and found inspiration in the African-American spiritual, which gained exposure through the popular minstrel shows.  Stephen Foster (1826-1864) was one such "Northerner" enamored with the musical heritage of the South who composed more than 200 hundred songs, nine of which are featured on this Web site [].

Toward the turn of the 19th century, composers became more ambitious, branching out from what became known as "popular song" and turning their creative energies to the more serious "art song."  This trend was sparked by the decision of many American composers to study in Europe, where they were exposed to song forms that emphasized the fusion of poetry and music.  European-trained composers include Edward MacDowell (1860-1908), Charles T. Griffes (1884-1920) and Charles Loeffler (1861-1935).

Indigenous music continued to serve as the source and inspiration for song composition for Henry T. "Harry" Burleigh (1866-1949), who composed arrangements of African-American spirituals, and Arthur Farwell (1872-1952), who drew heavily upon American Indian melodies.  Charles Ives' (1874-1954) songs contain quotations from American hymns, war songs, popular songs and cowboy ballads.  Art song composition continued in the first half of the 20th century with such notable composers as Aaron Copland (1900-1990), Samuel Barber (1910-1981) and Ernst Bacon (1898-1990). 

The Web site includes essays that provide the historical background for 21 songs.  Biographies for 11 key composers of the genre are also provided.  Audio recordings by Thomas Hampson and historical recordings from the Edison and Berliner companies are highlights of the presentation.  Other special features include video footage of seven songs from Hampson's concert tour as well as a master class with Hampson and Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Maxwell, a tenor vocalist with the U.S. Air Force Heartland of America Band at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.  The site will expand over the coming months to include more songs and composers so that the breadth of the American art song is more fully represented. 

Other music-related materials can be found in the Library of Congress Presents: Music, Theater and Dance at, which invites visitors to experience the diversity of American performing arts through the Library's unsurpassed collections. Another site, the Performing Arts Encyclopedia, is a guide to performing arts collections and resources at the Library of Congress, available at


Laura Gottesman
Digital Reference Team
The Library of Congress